Hell Week is a right of passage for all Navy SEALs. It is the hardest week of the hardest training program in the U.S. military, Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training.  It always falls during First Phase of BUD/S — in the modern era, anyway — though it has moved around a bit within First Phase.  Sometimes it is the fourth week, sometimes the fifth, and so on.

Hell Week holds some ancient rituals and trials, which all BUD/S students know they can expect, and it also holds some surprises, that are either pre-planned and kept under wraps by the instructor staff, or launched on a whim by a particularly sadistic instructor.

All the BUD/S students who have made it to Hell Week know, for example, that they can expect the “Steel Pier,” the paddle around the island, the mud flats, the demolition pit, and hours and hours of calisthenics and boat handling.  They also know that they can expect little, if any sleep, as much food as they can stuff in themselves during meal times, and countless surf torture sessions, in the frigid Pacific ocean.

There is no sure-fire way to prepare yourself for Hell Week, physically, other than to be prepared for BUD/S, generally.  There is not some magic trick to making it; there are no shortcuts.  BUD/S students will suffer and they will suffer mightily.  One boat crew might win itself a slight respite, and five minutes of sleep, if it is victorious in a boat race of some sort, but that is no guarantee.  It does always pay to be a winner, but the victory is often a pyrrhic one, as that five minutes of sleep can be followed by a grueling “beating” by the instructor staff.

The staff prides itself on putting the trainees through a grueling, debilitating, soul-crushing, and spirit-destroying Hell Week.  They know to do otherwise would deprive the students of an experience that all SEALs share.  Those students who make it all the way through BUD/S will remember their Hell Week forever.  They might not appreciate it while actually in it, but later on, they will pride themselves on having had a “hard” Hell Week.

Navy SEALs BUD/S Hell Week Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West
Former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West speaks to students in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALClass 290 upon their completion of Hell Week at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. West participated in surf passage before securing the class from Hell Week. (Photo by Kyle Gahlau/U.S. Navy)

Well, they are all hard.  Some are worse than others, usually due to mother nature, but only marginally so.  They all suck.  Big time.  A BUD/S student hopes for seconds, or blessed minutes, of relief and rest, and each cherishes any relief they are able to steal away throughout the ordeal.

This author, for example, during his Hell Week, was snuck a Snickers bar by one Marcus Luttrell, who was injured at the time, and serving in the student support staff, having already made it through his Hell Week.  It was like that commercial; one minute, I was Betty White trying to carry a boat on my head, and the next, I was myself again, though that boat still sucked bouncing on my sunburned dome.

I will let you all in on a little secret: there are some ways to make Hell Week just a wee bit more survivable.  Take these ten tips, ingest them into your grey matter, and you will have the slightest mental edge should you ever find yourself knee-deep in Hell Week.